January 7, 2015

Immigration Processing at Vegreville Personified! Interesting…

Posted by Mario Bellissimo - Bellissimo Law Group PC

The Toronto Stars’ two articles written by award-winning Immigration Reporter Nicholas Keung highlighted processing errors and staff constitution at Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s (CIC) Vegreville Office.  The two words that struck me first when reading the pieces were personification and opportunity.

CIC is Alive!

CIC is not a collection of computers and voicemail systems.  People will argue errors are unavoidable in a large under resourced system, processing hundreds of thousands of applications each year operating under global scrutiny.  There are many reason that errors will happen.  But it is not so much that errors happen because we all make them, it is how they are handled.  So what are the takeaways?

CIC Oversight, Institutional Entrenchment

Even though CIC strives for consistency it is an elusive if not unattainable goal in this context.  There have long been requests for an immigration ombudsperson to aid in the oversight, resolve issues and prevent institutional entrenchment.  Having meaningful avenues both internally (within CIC) and externally for responding to errors and oversights are critical to the functionality of the system.   Now this burden is far too often assumed by applicants.

As my colleague Erin Roth highlighted in her blog Confusion and Errors, we cannot hold applicants to an impossible standard of perfection.  Regardless of the cloak of Express Entry’s computer algorithms for example, selecting immigration applicants ultimately is an exercise of humans assessing other humans in a complex process.

College of Immigration/Cultural Shift?

Is there a need for a culture shift or different training at CIC?  Canada has borrowed heavily from the Australian blueprint in transforming its immigration program.  On May 16th, 2007 in an address on Linking Leadership with Values and Outcomes, Mr. Andrew Metcalfe, then Secretary of Australia’s Department of Immigration and Citizenship commented:

The Commonwealth Ombudsman, John McMillan said last year that there had been “significant culture change” in the department.  He also commented that “there is a strong framework that has been established for better staff training. A College of Immigration has been established  . . . [and] . . .agencies such as my own have been actively involved in the development of the curriculum for officers”. And the Human Rights Commissioner , John Von Doussa has said that “[the department] . . . has made great strides towards creating a more open and accountable organisation.

The College of Immigration was opened by the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (DIMA) on 3 July 2006. The college was a $57 million investment over five years.  Many of the Australian’s stated objectives in launching the initiative at that time (1) a more transparent and accountable department, (2) improvement of approach and attitude; and (3) a cultural shift could in some measure work to improve the Canadian system.  It seemed to work in Australia. We too should ensure we are operating the country’s immigration system in contemplation of the latest studies, methodology and training.


This type of debate is important and necessary if not always agreeable.  It is also a reminder that people make mistakes.  Oversight (ombudsperson), discretion, accessibility and understanding infuse humanity into an increasingly technical and sterile application of instructions, regulations and manuals.   The solutions require resources but there is an opportunity here to ensure that CIC benefits from the best training, oversight and the reality that should a mistake happen address it and allow the system to flourish on an equal playing field where an officer and an applicant are held to the same standard, a human standard.